- Amid concerns that Turkey and Russia could be drawn into direct conflict in Syria, Turkish President Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire.
- New tensions broke out last week between Turkey and the Syrian regime— which is backed by Russia— after the regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers. Turkey responded by launching a military offensive against the Syrian government.
- While the new offensive marks an increase in hostilities, the recent escalation has been ongoing since the Syrian regime tried to take over the last rebel holdout, displacing nearly one million refugees.
- Turkey, which believes the EU has not given it enough money to deal with the massive influx of refugees, retaliated by opening its border with Greece, which has created a separate problem in the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire in Syria Thursday amid recent escalations in the region.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria were heightened in December after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia, ramped up his military effort to take over the Idlib province. Idlib remains the last rebel stronghold in Syria.
The conflict reached a breaking point last week when the Syrian regime launched airstrikes that killed at least 33 Turkish troops, marking the worst military losses the Turkish army has seen in a single attack throughout the nine-year war in Syria.
Shortly after, Turkey launched a counteroffensive against the Syrian regime dubbed Operation Spring Shield.
Since then, violence has broken out all over Idlib. Turkey has launched airstrikes, ground offensives, and downed planes while Syrian forces have fought back.
Right now, it is unclear how many people on both sides have died due to difficulties assessing the situation on the ground and efforts by the Turkish government to censor independent media.
The conflict is incredibly significant as it represents the largest and most serious escalation of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian war. In fact, some experts have even described it as a direct war between Turkey and the Syrian regime.
This is quite notable because the conflicts between Turkey and Syrian have largely been fought through and with proxies. The two rarely confront each other, which makes the stakes even higher.
Russia, NATO, and the Ceasefire
While the new ceasefire reached by the two leaders may alleviate the situation, many are still worried that the new outbreak of violence could risk drawing Russia into a direct war with Turkey.
While Russia has been backing Syria, they have denied all responsibility for the airstrikes that killed the Turkish troops and set the offensive in motion.
Turkey, for its part, has been very careful not to directly blame Russia for the airstrike and instead has fully placed the fault on the Syrian regime.
While that might not be entirely true, the situation is complicated. By not implicating Russia, Turkey may be able to deescalate the situation and leave the door open for diplomacy.
To that point, Turkey has also said its operation is not meant to confront Russia.
Russia, at least for now, has refrained from intervening, which does seem to indicate that it does not want to get drawn into a war with Turkey.
Still, if something were to happen, it could create a situation where Turkey could be in direct conflict with Russian and Iranian forces, which also back the Syrian regime.
That, in turn, could drag in more powers. Turkey is a NATO member, and as badly as NATO, Europe, the U.S., and other Turkish allies do not want to involved in a war against Russia, they might not have much of a choice if things get worse.
There is also a problem with putting too much faith in a ceasefire: it did not work before.
Russia and Turkey agreed to another ceasefire under the 2018 Sochi agreement, but that largely fell apart.
While the details of the current ceasefire are still being hashed out, it is unclear if the new agreement will be more effective or if it will ultimately have the same fate.
Refugees and Greece
There is also another problem that has come from the Syrian regime trying to gain power over Idlib— refugees.
Idlib is home to about three million people, many of whom are refugees who have been forced from other parts of Syria.
Since Dec. 1, nearly one million people have been displaced by the Syrian regime— the biggest single displacement since the war started.
Many of those civilians are women and children, and many are living in dangerous conditions, sleeping outside or in tents in below-freezing conditions.
When Erdogan announced that he was starting the offensive, he also said that he was opening Turkey’s borders with Greece to Syrian refugees.
Greece, which has already taken in 3.7 million refugees, condemned the move.
It accused Turkey of using the refugees as “pawns” to pressure the European Union (E.U.) into giving them more money for the refugee crisis or to support their goals in the Syrian war.
This has also been echoed by the E.U. Council, which said in a statement that it “expresses its solidarity with Greece” and “strongly rejects Turkey’s use of migratory pressure for political purposes.”
Over the last few days, the situation has escalated rapidly. Greek forces have prevented the refugees from entering, reportedly pushing them back into Turkey.
Turkey responded Wednesday by sending 1,000 police to the border to resist the pushback. The Turkish government also accused Greece of firing live rounds at the refugees, killing at least three.
Greece denied the claims, calling them “fake news.”
Meanwhile, the Greek government said their border forces had prevented nearly 35,000 people from entering over the past five days, and arrested 244. It also said it is preparing to deport hundreds of others who made it through.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Axios) (Vox)
YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi
Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.
Police Peer Behind the Veil
A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.
On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.
Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.
His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.
Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.
The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.
Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.
A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.
According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.
McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.
Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.
At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.
“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.
Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.
At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.
“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.